Christian Horton

Christian Horton, a senior in construction engineering management at Oregon State University, was honored with an outstanding student achievement award at the 2021 ASC Open Mechanical competition hosted by the Associated Schools of Construction in February.

The Oregon State Mechanical team placed second overall. Other team members were Evan Lehman, Connor Splitstoser, Amin Tuffa, Keven Estupinian, and Thomas Robinson. Joe Fradella, senior instructor in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering, served as the team’s faculty coach.

Popularly known as the Reno competition, this year’s event was conducted online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Horton and his teammates’ preparations began last fall, including a two-term “Reno class” course sequence. While they spent a lot of time getting ready for the competition, when the big day came, nobody knew quite what to expect.

“You have 14 hours to work on a problem from a real-world project that has already been completed, and then you have an hour to present your solution,” Horton explained. “The judges include people who worked on the original project, so they know all the ins and outs. There’s not too much wiggle room.”

The day began at 6 a.m., when Horton jumped onto a Zoom video conference with his teammates. By 7 a.m., the team sponsor had released a folder containing about 5 gigabytes of documents: construction plans, drawings, various specifications, and customer communications.

Horton’s project involved installing some large, complex air handler units and chillers in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, a 2-million-square-foot concrete convention facility in a busy downtown area adjacent to the Bay Bridge. Assuming the role of project manager, Horton was tasked with finding a way to complete the installation with minimal disruption to building operations and surrounding traffic.

“These are massive units, basically the size of a small shipping container,” Horton said. “There are no doors in the building large enough to fit a unit through, and with multiple units to install, it requires extensive pre-planning.”

The Moscone Center presented Horton a very big box to think outside of. Part of the challenge lay in sorting through the thousands of pages of information, with no indication where to begin or how to find anything he might be looking for. Then there was the difficulty of trying to conceive of complex interactions in three dimensions and recognize potential clashes, relying exclusively on two-dimensional reference materials.

“I worked for a good 10 hours analyzing drawings and layouts with nothing to show on paper,” Horton said. “It was a bit nerve-racking as the clock was ticking and my team was counting on me.”

Then, he hit upon an idea.

First, he’d identify the best point of access that would cause the least disruption or destruction, and reroute traffic around the site. Then, he’d excavate the area outside the convention center and open up a hole in the wall roughly the size of an air handler unit. Finally, with a mobile crane oriented just right, he could stack the units on top of each other inside the building by hoisting through an existing cooling tower chimney stack.

The idea of working with massive equipment doesn’t intimidate Horton. Before going to college, the 28-year-old spent several years working overseas as a roughneck in the offshore oil and gas industry, a job that took him to Italy and Romania, and into the Black Sea. He had originally intended to jump into the construction trades straight after high school, but he found the allure of black gold too strong to resist. (“It’s kind of a family tradition,” he said.)

Working on a six-month construction project on an oil rig in 2014, with people from about 20 other countries, gave Horton unique perspective and experience.

“You’ve got people coming and going from all directions. You’re trying to communicate with people who speak zero English, and you don’t speak their language either. Meanwhile there’s 100,000 pounds of equipment hanging over your head,” he explained. “Nothing compares to the oil and gas industry; however, construction has its own unique demands and challenges, which I am eager to learn and master.”

At 9 p.m. the night of the competition, the team members had to submit their final reports, then rest up for their presentation the following morning. The judges were impressed with the work, but they still managed to throw Horton a curveball or two.

“They asked how the building would operate while the air handlers were being replaced,” Horton said. “I had zero time to look up an answer. Thinking from the top of my head, I explained that the work was going to take place during a time when the temperatures would be moderate, so the system would not experience any heavy loads, and the secondary units would still be functioning.”

Horton credits his fast thinking for the award he received.

In addition to his previous work experience, Horton says industry coaches Reggie McShane, Garret Eisenbrandt, and Grant Smith of TCM Mechanical were instrumental in helping the team prepare for success in the competition.

“Christian is a focused, hardworking student who has some real-world experience that has definitely helped him,” said McShane, who has coached teams from Oregon State in Reno competitions for the past five years. “He was a leader within the group, and the students who enter this competition are already top performers who want to excel. They have to put in a lot of extra time and effort.”

After graduation in June, Horton will begin work as an assistant project manager for Rosendin Electric in Prineville, where the firm is currently building data centers for Facebook.

The National Science Foundation has selected two graduate students in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, as well as two recent alumni, as fellows in the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the institution. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees. Only 10% of applicants receive fellowships.

Damon George, who graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Gonzaga University, is currently pursuing a doctorate in computer science at Oregon State. As part of the Information Processing Group, George works under the direction of V John Mathews, professor of electrical and computer engineering, focusing on how machine learning and AI can be used to help people with disabilities.

Left to right: Kyle Chin, Alyssa Ekdahl, Damon George, and Leni Halaapiapi.

“I am creating advanced prostheses that interpret people’s movement intent from their biological signals, with the goal of creating artificial limbs that operate and feel like natural limbs and are controlled by thought,” George said. “Modern prostheses tend to deteriorate in performance over time, often rendering them unusable, so I am developing adaptive prostheses that can learn from the user over time.”

Leni Halaapiapi, a 2019 graduate of Central Washington University, is also pursuing a doctorate in computer science. Working in the lab of Rakesh Bobba, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, his research is in cybersecurity with a focus on swarm intelligence.

“Some projects I am currently working on are unmanned aerial systems (drone) security and nuclear power plant cyber vulnerability analysis,” Halaapiapi said. “I have an interest in swarm intelligence and swarm intelligence algorithms, so I hope to use the NSF funding to help further my knowledge in this domain and produce new and exciting research.”

Alyssa Ekdahl (’15 B.S., Chemical Engineering) is pursuing a doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin. Her research integrates synthetic biology and engineering to study the structure and function of regulatory RNAs for therapeutic applications.

Kyle Chin (’19 B.S., Chemical Engineering) is currently pursuing a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His research interests lie in developing chemical systems and 3D printing methods to allow better control of material structure and chemical composition across multiple length scales.

“It’s great that so many Beavers were awarded the fellowship,” Chin said.

Amy Wyman, a second-year doctoral student in civil engineering, has been awarded a prestigious graduate fellowship from the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program. The $35,500 award from the U.S. Department of Transportation provides funding for “the nation’s brightest minds” to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees in transportation-related disciplines.

Wyman, who grew up in Portland, earned her Honors Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Oregon State University in 2017. After graduating, she spent two years in Phoenix working as a traffic engineer for consulting firm Burgess & Niple.

She returned to Oregon State in 2019 with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor herself. Her current research focuses on human factors in transportation, with an emphasis on improving safety for pedestrians and bicycles on shared roadways.

“I love that civil engineering is dedicated to public service, and that I share that desire to be a public servant with many of my classmates,” Wyman said. “Of course, I like the technical aspects of my discipline, but it’s the people who have made my experiences in industry and academia truly special.”

Wyman says she has had several fantastic mentors along the way who have inspired and guided her. One of those mentors is her graduate advisor, David Hurwitz, professor of civil and construction engineering and Eric H.I. and Janice Hoffman Faculty Scholar. Wyman was fortunate to meet him when she was still an undergraduate; he also served as her Honors College thesis advisor.

“Dr. Hurwitz was the first, and only, person to suggest I might consider a career as a professor,” Wyman said. “At the time, it hadn’t even occurred to me. A light clicked on, and I realized, ‘Oh yeah, Dr. Hurwitz has a job!’”

Wyman also credits the Women and Minorities in Engineering program at Oregon State, DKS Associates in Portland (where she did her first internship), and her project manager in Phoenix among those who have helped guide her. She says she hopes to “pay it forward” someday, by doing for future students what her mentors have done for her.

“I really love being part of the School of Civil and Construction Engineering, and I genuinely think it’s a special community,” she said. “I’ll never forget how Cindy Olson, who works in the front office, was so welcoming when I first walked in as an uncertain undergraduate hoping to change my major to civil engineering. She knew my name after the first visit. I remember thinking, ‘This is a good place.’”

Photo of Robin GargJust one of 23 students selected from across the world, Robin Garg, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at Oregon State University, was recently selected to receive a prestigious 2020-21 Predoctoral Achievement Award from the IEEE Solid-State Circuits Society. This award is based on academic record, promise, and quality of publications.

Garg’s work in the High-Speed Integrated Circuits Lab at Oregon State focuses on building advanced integrated circuits for millimeter-wave wireless communication links. His research on scalable and reconfigurable multiple-input multiple-output arrays speeds up wireless communications by enabling multiple streams of data between users. As more 5G networks are deployed and devices that take advantage of this technology become ubiquitous, this research provides solutions to handle the resulting massive surge in demand for data.

Garg received his B.Tech. degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and then worked in industry before returning to school to work on cutting-edge research. “I am passionate about solving the challenging problems that make an impact,” Garg explained. “Recently, we designed a new millimeter-wave full-duplex IC that will allow more users to access 5G networks, as well as reduce the cost of deploying the technology.”

Garg’s advisor, Arun Natarajan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering, finds Garg’s work impressive. “Robin has developed innovative techniques that make it easier to increase wireless link data rates that coexist with other radios operating at the same frequency while lowering power consumption,” Natarajan said.

The Solid-State Circuits Society is not the only one noticing Garg’s work. In 2020, he was recognized with the Outstanding Student Designer Award from Analog Devices. He also brought home the student paper award (2nd place) at the IEEE Radio Frequency Integrated Circuits Symposium in 2020. “It is encouraging to see the wider community recognize Robin’s research, and I look forward to his future contributions in this area,” Natarajan said.

James Matthew Ewing grew up in Lebanon, Oregon, and is a sophomore in electrical engineering. His experiences with research and the OSU Robotics Club have fueled his interest in robotics. He plans to pursue a career in low-power electronics after graduation.

James Ewing is soldering a PCB for a robotic grasping testing device in his garage lab.

As a student from a small high school going into college, finding the path to success seemed like a daunting task. But it is possible! The first step I took was to find what makes me happy, through extracurricular involvement with robotics and undergraduate research.

Through my involvement in the OSU Robotics Club, I found that I have a blast solving engineering problems as part of a team. My journey started when I joined the Mars Rover subteam and took on a project to design printed circuit boards that no one else wanted to. At first, I had no idea how to design a PCB. But after attending OSURC’s technical workshop, I was able to complete the project. The technical skills I learned allowed me to do more than a first-year student who had built their knowledge solely from the course curriculum. 

In the fall of 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I became the president of the robotics club.  This role has allowed me to grow as a leader in an ever-changing environment. The love that OSURC’s members show for robotics is intoxicating. This experience has driven me to become the best leader I can, so I can pass on the love of robotics to others. As president of the club, I have built connections with faculty, industry experts, and other students that will last beyond my tenure as president. I am grateful for the amazing learning experience.

Another large part of finding happiness has come from balancing finances and education. The first step I took was through the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and the Arts program. As a first-year student, I took the initiative to apply for the program and was accepted by Professor Cindy Grimm. My project was to create a sensorized, “smart” apple that allowed robotic hand grasping algorithms to collect data on how to pick an apple. After finishing my research project, Professor Grimm hired me as an undergraduate research assistant with flexible hours. As a result, I’m financially stable and still have enough time to get hands on experience and learn the course material. 

Finally, I have been very fortunate to have an amazing group of friends who have had my back throughout my college years. This started with a small group of friends from high school that expanded as I met more amazing people in my electrical engineering classes. I can’t emphasize enough how important having a support group has been for me. Without having my friends there to bounce ideas off of and to remind me about assignments that are due, I don’t believe I would have made it as far as I have.   

What I’ve learned is that success doesn’t happen to people because they are smarter or better. I am definitely not the most intelligent person, but I make up for that by putting in effort into activities outside of my courses. Take my story as evidence that finding balance and building connections will lead to happiness and success in college and beyond.   

James Matthew Ewing